Microsoft-Novell: What a long, strange year it's been

Microsoft-Novell: What a long, strange year it's been

Summary: The Novell-Microsoft technology partnership hit its one-year milestone. Here are some of the highlights from the past year that Microsoft decided not to tout in its press release marking the anniversary of the controversial deal.


In what's been a controversial (to say the least) partnership, the Microsoft-Novell technology partnership and patent-protection arrangement has reached its one-year anniversary.

Microsoft issued on November 7 a press release to mark the occasion, citing "30 new customers" that have signed up for certificates for three-year priority support subscriptions for SuSE Linux Enterprsie Server from Novell. The new customers include Costco, Southwest Airlines and the City of Los Angeles, according to Microsoft.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft isn't saying much about the part of its collaboration with Novell which has generated the most publicly outcry: The patent-protection component. The press release simply states that the 30 new customers are "join(ing) the ranks of all other Microsoft and Novell customers currently benefiting from the companies’ collaboration to enable interoperability and IP peace of mind in mixed environments."

As those who've followed in greater depth the twists and turns of Microsoft's attempts to pressure Linux distribution vendors to pay for alleged infringement on Microsoft patents know, the Microsoft-Novell partnership has not been all smooth sailing. In the past year, here are a few of the related milestones in the Novell-Microsoft relationship that Microsoft isn't celebrating in today's press release:

Late November 2006: Novell's leadership is so upset over CEO Steve Ballmer's continued claims that Novell was in violation of Microsoft patents that they issued a statement repudiating that contention. Microsoft issues a public statement of its own, which does nothing to back Novell's claim: "Microsoft and Novell have agreed to disagree on whether certain open source offerings infringe Microsoft patents and whether certain Microsoft offerings infringe Novell patents. The agreement between our two companies puts in place a workable solution for customers for these issues, without requiring an agreement between our two companies on infringement.

December 2006: One of Novell's high-profile hires, Jeremy Allison of Samba fame, quits in protest of the Novell-Microsoft deal. "The patent agreement struck between Novell and Microsoft is a divisive agreement," said Allison in his public statement. "It deals with users and creators of free software differently depending on their 'commercial' versus 'non-commercial' status, and deals with them differently depending on whether they obtained their free software directly from Novell or from someone else. The goals of the Free Software community and the GNU GPL allow for no such distinctions."

February 2007: CEO Ballmer throws cold water, yet again, on Novell's contention that technological collaboration was the primary reason Microsoft forged a partnership with Novell. Ballmer tells Wall Street: "I would not anticipate that we make a huge additional revenue stream from our Novell deal, but I do think it clearly establishes that Open Source is not free and Open Source will have to respect intellectual property rights of others just as any other competitor will." May 2007: Microsoft goes public with claims that free and open-source software violates 235 of its patents. The company has refused to provide further specifics (unless it is doing so privately, when it is meeting, one-on-one, with various vendors it hopes to get to sign patent-protection clauses like Novell's).

May 2007: Microsoft issues the results of a Microsoft-funded study claiming that rank-and-file open-source developers don’t want the Free Software Foundation to dictate policy (meaning GPL-related terms and conditions) on patent-protection deals, like the one forged last year between Microsoft and Novell.

July 2007: Microsoft adds a note to its Web site notifying customers that the Novell agreement will not cover any GPLv3-protected software. The Novell certificates distributed by Microsoft cover GPLv2-protected versions of SuSE Enterprise Linux. However, these Linux certificates reportedly have no expiration date, which could make for some interesting legal challenges down the road.

Since inking the Novell deal a year ago, Microsoft has convinced three other Linux distribution vendors -- Xandros, Linspire and TurboLinux -- to sign similar pacts. Red Hat and others have held out.

Microsoft and Novell are crowing about the improved interoperability that customers are enjoying as a result of their partnership. (I never thought the pair needed a special collaboration agreement to achieve something that they both acknowledge customers want, but that's beside the point.) But in spite of all the customer testimonials and press releases they can muster, Microsoft and Novell would be hard-pressed to prove that patent-protection side of their arrangement hasn't done more harm than good -- in terms of the pair's reputation in the open-source community.

Topics: Banking, Linux, Microsoft, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • VERDICT: Microsoft's cynical patent FUD campaign is a DISMAL FAILURE

    Let's be honest here. Microsoft doesn't want to "interoperate" with Linux. Microsoft wants to EMBRACE AND DESTROY Linux. Fortunately, as is often the case when Microsoft gives the "bear hug of death" and then tries to stab the victim in the back, they often miss. This case is no different.

    From Microsoft's press release (1):

    [i]"...Having exceeded their original business targets, the companies continue to see strong demand for interoperability and intellectual property (IP) peace of mind..."[/i]

    So... they are selling "peace of mind", huh. This is a tacit admission that the campaign is about fear, not business and legal reality.

    [b]Major corporations are NOT buying into Microsoft's patent FUD[/b]

    Microsoft claims success and cites 30 companies. Where are the major corporations? General Electric? Proctor and Gamble? Citicorp? Bank of America? The rest of the "Fortune 500"? The fact that major corporations are not buying into this tells you everything you need to know.

    [b]Linux Distros are NOT buying into Microsoft's patent FUD[/b]

    In the first year, Microsoft has signed up only four Linux distros:

    1. Novell - Desperate for the cash they received from Microsoft in the deal.

    2. Xandros - A small commercial Linux distro.

    3. Linspire - A small commercial Linux distro.

    4. TurboLinux - A small commercial Linux distro.

    Meanwhile, two very large Linux distros, RedHat and Ubuntu, have already publicly said they are not going to sign patent deals with Microsoft. I applaud and cheer them. Theirs is the correct response to Microsoft's cynical patent FUD campaign.

    [b]This is about FEAR, not "interoperability"[/b]

    And, the "interoperability lab"? This is just PR spin. Eight staffers and only 2,500 square feet? Microsoft is sending four of the "best and brightest" they have? Baloney!

    For Microsoft-Novell lab, eight is enough

    Pride goeth before the fall. Microsoft's cynical patent FUD (Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt) campaign against Linux is a DISMAL FAILURE.


    (1) Microsoft press release, November 7, 2007
    • Hmmm, all those customers

      say you are dead wrong. But hey, nice try...
      • Yeah, it's so huge compared to RedHat's 64% Q2 net growth (NT)

    • Great Post

      Your arguments are sensible and well laid out!
    • Yup, oh, how's the law suits against Red Hat?

      You know, the ones for patent violations?
      • This isn't about patent trolls. It's about Microsoft patent FUD.

        Patent trolls, who have no products, and have nothing to lose, have everything to gain by filing patent infringement suits.

        On the other hand, we have Microsoft, one of the biggest patent infringers on the planet (court records prove it). Should Microsoft start suing its own customers, it will lose them. Should Microsoft start a patent suit war with competitors, it will lose in a court of law, and in the court of public opinion.

        Microsoft's patent suit threats over unspecified patents are pure intimidation, nothing more. An honorable company which has a valid complaint will present the complaint in an honest way. Microsoft's fear and intimidation tactics are admired by the likes of Vito Corelone and Tony Soprano.

        This isn't about patent trolls (or Internet trolls for that matter).
        • There is no such thing as a patent troll.

          Yes, there are INVESTORS that meet a need. Someone a patent holder can sell their patent to. Of course there are also individules with one or two patents with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Hmmm, threats from every corner...

          Where you get the idea that Microsoft would automatically lose in a patent case is beyond me. Are you assuming every patent they hold is bad or are you assuming they can't afford a lawyer? I believe you would be wrong in either case. As for the "court of public opion". sorry but again that is a figment of the imagination, it doesn't exist. Suing their customers? Why would they ever do that when there are so many Linux distros with targets pained on them by the FSF's ackowledgement there are hundreds of patent violations?

          As to Red Hat suing them back, dude you make me laugh. Oh, you mean IBM (the same IBM that has signed all the cross license for patents with Microsoft) is going to jump into a fight when they don't have a dog in it? Maybe you mean Sun with all their cross licensing of their patents with Microsoft. No huh, well then exactly who is you are talking about?
          • We can always rely on NoAxe

            to define the word 'bias'.

            It's great to read his posts!
          • Hey, if NoAxe didn't sound the same...

            ... we'd be sure he'd be dead or replaced with an opponent. Consistency in error is the only thing errors have going for them.

          • To add to NoAx's misery...

            It might be asked of him why HDD manufacturers Maxtor (for Windows OEM's) are installing rootkits etc. Maxtor in Thailand and the Netherlands being prime examples.

            Dear old NoAx was all his knickers in a twist when that thingy got included in some iPods (yet could only affect Windows boxes), so this should give him an aneurism. Nah, who am I kidding, he'll just shill it away.
          • Vehemently disagree.

            "Yes, there are INVESTORS that meet a need. Someone a patent holder can sell their patent to."

            There is no "need" to sell patents, and quite frankly, they should be illegal to sell.

            "Of course there are also individules with one or two patents with nothing to lose and everything to gain."

            Try hundreds of patents that will never see actual implementation by the patent holder. IMHO, there should be a mandate that the patent holder creates a product from the patent or risks losing the patent.

            Oh, there's such thing as a patent troll alright:

            A patent troll is an individual or a business that does nothing but buys and sells patents, without ever creating a product from said patents. They usually make most of their money suing people's pants off.

            IMHO it should be illegal to run such a business.

            Patents are about inventions, not about buying and selling them. The use of patents as something that can be bought and sold is a blatant misuse of them and is contrary to the reason they were created.

            The product is what should be making the money - NOT the patent.
          • No such thing as patent trolls?

            Oh No_Brain_To_Find, you're really exceeding expectations with this one.
            I love the way you arbitrarily decide, based on nothing more than your own incredibly narrow and limited perspective, that the term "Patent Trolls" does not have any meaning. It's so much easier to simply deny the existence of something than actually offer any kind of counter argument.

            ROFL! I am not kidding, I am genuinely ON THE FLOOR! ROLLING AROUND! HOLDING MY STOMACH!
            You're THAT FUNNY!
      • You mean [u]supposed[/u] patent violations.

        With the amount of prior art already found, the patents [u]will[/u] be invalidated and you can't violate a non-patent.
  • Like any marriage...

    The first year is the roughest.
    • Maybe for you it was,

      but not for all marriages as you say. Statistics prove different (ouch - the facts! that must hurt NoAxe)

      By the way, you bragged about having written two powerpoint books. What are the titles? Or don't you want to be transparent about that?
      • Gee, I suggest you

        look up some marriage / divorce stats.

        As to naming my books, my company, or myself no, I have no need of children playing stupid games with my information Tell you what though, give your real name, the company you work for and your position and I'll think about it.
        • You made the Claim,

          you deliver the titles.

          • Not difficult, impossible

            He can't do it. One of two reasons:
            A) He lied like a politician about his writing of books.
            B) He did write them, but they are just as full of misinformation and nonsense as his postings here, thus discrediting his one and only claim to "expertise" in the computer field.

            Fact is, any marketroid can slap together Power Points, a pamphlet of application tips does not make one an expert in IT issues.
  • Washington State Department of Information Services

    Finally, we can speak freely. You will note that Microsoft's home state is part of the Microsoft Novell marriage. Non disclosure agreements are such Bravo Sierra.

    Hell really did freeze last November. There is nothing in the press statement or article about an extension of the agreement past 2012 which is the year I am told it all ends.

    The full list is as follows: Abraxas Informatik AG; ADIF; AFG IT Consulting; Arsys Internet S.L.; Baker Hughes; BATS Trading Inc.; State of California Department of Technology Services; Cash Converters International Ltd.; CHRISTUS Health; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; City of Los Angeles; CompuCom Systems Inc.; Conductor Tecnologia S.A.; Costco Wholesale Corp.; Flagstar Bank; iLoop Mobile Inc.; Leicester City Council; Kent County, Mich.; Mercury Insurance; Pioneer Corp.; Riverside County, Calif.; South Carolina Department of Probation, Pardon and Parole Services; Southwest Airlines Co.; Swiss Post; Synovus Financial Corp.; TDC Hosting; T-Systems Enterprise Services GmbH; Washington State Department of Information Services; Westmont College; and Zabka Polska S.A.
  • RE: Microsoft-Novell: What a long, strange year it's been

    The "protection racket" has been around a lot longer than Microsoft. It continues to work because there are always people around who cannot resist intimidation. For Microsoft these are the IT Dept. heads and CEO's of this world.